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My Story...

Sovereign Foundations
Sovereign change. Those are two words I would use to describe my path growing up, specifically, and my life in general. Before I turned 18, I had attended more than 13 schools. Change had become ordinary, almost anticipated. When I had transitioned into college, sown my wild oats, settled down somewhat, gotten engaged to be married, and chosen a career for which every choice I made seemed to be as if from the hand of Midas, suddenly God entered my world with a detrimental (at least in terms of my house of cards) flash of the obvious – “I’m in control, not you.” Change was now no longer ordinary, it was glorious.

You see, before, change seemed to be something drearily accepted as one accepts a bitter concoxion of medicines while suffering from the flu – necessary, but certainly not enjoyable. But now, as God flooded my reality with His reality, and brought to life all of those childhood stories of “Jesus loves me this I know,” change became what it was royally intended for… God’s glory. As my favorite poet once wrote,

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.1

I must admit, God’s bright designs are much easier to see when observed in retrospect, even if only casually glanced at as if looking at a rear-view mirror. The hills, valleys and mountaintops seem so endless and difficult during the hike, but so beautiful when conquered. Self-centered; driven; egotistical; prideful – this was my world when God broke me and brought me to Himself towards the end of my college career. Yet another change, yes, but one that would redirect the course of my self-absorbed life and bring it onto a path of a pursuit of Grace.

Discovering life…discovering leadership
It was during these spiritually formative years that I discovered many “firsts” that would become constant themes in my life. It was at this time that I went to my first prayer meeting, discovering, in the process, God and community through prayer. I remember that first prayer meeting – it was in the living room of the man that would become a great mentor and friend – John Bryson. As this group of 35 college kids came together to pray, I realized something – it was a feeling I had never felt before. Like a weary traveler after a long journey, I felt like I had finally come home. Prayer, especially with other believers, for the first time felt like home.

During those years, I went on my first mission trip, to Mexico, discovering some latent spiritual gifts – teaching and communication. As chaos reigned with the 50 little children in the mountainous Mexican village, I began to use the only Spanish words and phrases I could muster. Almost instantly the children were gathered around, and I, like the Pied Piper, was leading them in a Spanglish version of the Gospel bracelet. For the first time I felt as if God was really using me, bringing order to chaos and teaching His word to the children.

During those years, I led my first inner-city Bible club, discovering latent leadership gifts among the injustices of the poor and oppressed. I would show up to each club early, with my team in tow, leading them from mobile home to mobile home, looking for kids. I learned the joy of delegation and giving away opportunities to younger leaders. I was there for so many years that I actually moved into that forgotten trailer park and lived among them, anxious to lead them into a relationship with Christ. It was my first taste of church planting…and of failure.

During those years, I pursued my first mentors, discovering, in the process, the joy of being developed and equipped. I watched as they took me under wing, entrusted me with responsibility, risked their reputation by giving me spiritual authority, and taught me through their successes and their failures.

God is global?
One of the first things I ever did as a Christian was go on a mission trip, so I’ve had the unique opportunity to see God working in other cultures. From Cuba to China, Spain to Singapore, Ecuador to Indonesia, I have had the humbling experience of watching God work His magic in other countries. I remember one event in particular, set in a living room in Shanghai, China. There was a small, rag-tag band of Chinese college believers there, and as they starting banging out something on the only out-of-tune guitar they owned, I noticed something strangely familiar…worship. And as they continued in their heart-felt expression of their devotion to Christ, I could literally taste and see the book of Revelation, chapter 5, coming to life:

9And they sang a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and
priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."

Since that event, every time I experience worship in other countries and cultures, I weep. Sometimes uncontrollably, sometimes inaudibly. But I cry. I can’t help it. There is something inside of me that pops like a cork coming out of a bottle of wine…and I cry. Maybe it’s the vision of a throng of peoples from every tribe and tongue and nation worshipping before the throne of God, as rapturously recounted in the book of Revelation, chapter 5. Maybe it’s the idea that God is doing a work so diverse that it refracts His glory like a kaleidoscope refracts light. Maybe it’s the out-of-this-world notion that we, in some small way, are getting an appetizer, a fore-taste, of heaven divine…that we are getting to sip of the wine of God’s presence in a way only dreamed about by the Prophets.

I don’t know what it is.

But I do know that God’s heart for the nations is drunken with love, and overflowing with tender mercies and inexplicable long-sufferings. From Genesis to Revelation, and even in the chapters of my own experience, I have seen and grown to love that heart. That heart that gathers up his robe as a searching Father and literally runs towards the Prodigal. That heart that sits at a hot and dusty well and waits patiently for the woman who’s had more husbands than she can count, and gently baits her into lowering her guard and drinking of eternal life. That heart that strains and works to care for the poor and oppressed and downtrodden. That is the heart that I have grown to infinitely respect, admire and love – God’s heart…for the nations.

An injustice to fight, a woman to rescue
As I finished up four years of post-graduate, church-based missionary training, I suddenly found myself with yet another one of God’s sovereign changes: moving to Memphis. Here I am preparing to move to Thailand and then to India with my perfect 2, 5, and 10 year goals neatly in place, and along comes the Sovereign and uproots my plans. As the opportunities in Thailand and India quickly and irreversibly closed like a coffin, I found myself at a crossroads of 3 decisions: go to Mexico and learn the language, go to Russia and attempt to learn the language, or go to Memphis and plant a church. What drew me to Memphis were two indelible hurdles: a racially and socio-economically divided city whose tensions seemed to simmer just below the surface, and a track record of traditionalism in the churches that seemed to lock progress firmly out of reach. I would hear the words of Bill Hybels that had been ringing in my ears now for quite some time:

“The Church is the hope of the world.”2

I moved a year earlier than the rest of the church planting team so that I could help transition a group of college students that had already started meeting into the church plant. It was during this year that God broad-sided me with the boulders of racial division, socio-economic disparity, and at-risk communities.

It was here that I learned that there was an injustice to fight. And it was in an encounter with Robert Lupton in Atlanta where I learned how to fight it – community re-vitalization and transformational development in the name of Christ. I was already living in the inner-city of Memphis, only because I sensed God wanted me there. But now I knew why He had me there – to bring attention to and tackle the issues that had been sorely overlooked in this once-great city. And all the while I would continue to hear the words of Hybels:

“The Church is the hope of the world.”3

As the church plant got on its feet in Memphis, God opened a door that brought me full circle back to missions. I am now Global Outreach Director of Operations at Hope Presbyterian Church, a church of about 7,000 people near Memphis. And, interestingly enough, our Global Outreach vision is to “develop churches…one leader at a time.” God continues to weave not only my passions, but my experiences together.

Looking through the rear-view
As I look back on God’s hand, it is much easier to see His hand weaving a tapestry of passions and experiences that have brought me to this point in my life. From sovereign foundations to discovering true life, from growing in leadership to understanding global diversity, from transformational development to missional church, it seems that God has woven into my heart the very embers He seems to want to fan into flames. May my goal continue to be the same: to be a blessing to others and learn from those who have been blessed in ways that I can only imagine. Who knows what the next sovereign change may bring. They are all a bright design that God has orchestrated, for I know that “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.”4


Footnotes:
1. William Cowper, “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books), p. 83.
2. Bill Hybels, The Great Commission, Individual Message. (www.willowcreek.com) June 24-25, 1992.
3. Ibid.
4. William Cowper, “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books), p. 83.

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